Bone Cancer Overview (cont.)

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What kinds of bone cancer occur in children?

As mentioned above, osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer, is most common in children and young adults. Ewing sarcoma is another bone cancer that typically affects children.

What tests are used to diagnose bone cancer?

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A variety of imaging tests may be used to identify bone tumors, including bone cancers. Very early bone cancers may not be apparent on plain X-rays, but X-ray examination can identify many tumors. CT scans are more precise and may be used to identify bone tumors. MRI scans can provide detail of the soft tissues of the body and can typically reveal whether the cancer has spread beyond the bone into nearby tissues.

A bone scan is a test that uses radioactive material and X-rays to identify areas of rapidly growing or remodeling bone. This may allow the localization of tumors anywhere in the body. This test is not specific for bone cancers and can also reveal areas of inflammation as found with arthritis, fractures, and infections.

While many bone cancers have a characteristic appearance on imaging studies, a biopsy (tissue sample) must be taken in order to precisely determine what kind of cancer is present and confirm the diagnosis. The biopsy can be taken with a needle or through a surgical incision.

What is the treatment for bone cancer?

Surgical removal of the tumor is the mainstay of treatment for bone cancers. Improved surgical techniques allow for most bone cancers to be removed without requiring amputation of an affected limb. However, reconstructive surgery is often done in addition to tumor removal in order to maximize function.

For most types of bone cancers, chemotherapy drugs are given in addition to surgery. One exception is chondrosarcoma, which is typically not treated with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is often used for chondrosarcomas and for Ewing sarcomas.

Ewing sarcomas that do not respond well to other treatments are sometimes treated with high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. In this procedure, the patient's stem cells (blood cells that have the potential to make all the different kinds of blood cells) are harvested from the bloodstream in a way similar to a blood donation. After high doses of chemotherapy medications to destroy the bone marrow, the harvested stem cells are returned to the body as with a blood transfusion. Over the next three to four weeks, the stem cells produce new blood cells from the bone marrow.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/20/2015

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